The Colorado State Rams will play the San Diego State Aztecs in the 2017 Mountain West Tournament semifinals. Both teams coasted to big wins in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
CSU cruised behind Gian Clavell’s 30 points to an 81-55 victory over Air Force.
The 26-point win over Air Force marks the second time the Rams have beaten the Falcons by at least 25 this season. Colorado State’s 27 and 26 point victories over Air Force are the Rams’ largest margins of victory this season.
No. 6 seed San Diego State has won twice in two days. The most recent victory was an 87-68 win over No. 3 seed Boise State in the quarterfinals.
Though Boise State held a six point advantage with under five minutes remaining in the first half, the Aztecs eventually found their stroke. And similar to SDSU’s win over UNLV on Wednesday, once the Aztecs got going, they couldn’t be stopped.
Junior forward Malik Pope has dominated and notched a double-double in each of the Aztecs’ MW Tournament games thus far. Pope scored 13 and collected 12 rebounds against UNLV. The forward then continued his dominance against the Broncos, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor.
SDSU seems to have avoided a major blow before it matches up with the Rams in the semifinals. Pope was seen limping to the sideline towards the end of the game with a left knee injury. However, Pope claimed that he would be good to go against CSU following the win over the Broncos.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Pope said. “It was real minor. Still talking with the doc but everything should be good. I think it’s a minor hyperextension, but it should be good.”
The two regular season contests between the Rams and Aztecs ended in dramatic fashion and in CSU’s favor.
Clavell led the Rams to a thrilling 78-77 victory in San Diego on Jan. 28. This was the first time CSU pulled out a win in San Diego since 2003.
This season is also the first time the Rams have beaten the Aztecs twice in the regular season since 2003. The second win was, once again, by only one point. Emmanuel Omogbo knocked down a 3-pointer with four seconds remaining in the game to propel CSU to a 56-55 victory.
San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher recognizes that avoiding a third loss to the Rams this season will be a tough task.
“They’re well coached,” Fisher said. “Larry Eustachy has done a magnificent job with that team. They’re shorthanded. They play with an edge. They play with a leader in Clavell that brings energy to the whole group. And we’re smart enough to know we’re going to have to play, and play for 40 minutes.”
Clavell was Colorado State’s leading scorer in both wins over SDSU, totalling 55 points on 42.5 percent shooting from the field.
Pope scored 19 against CSU on Jan. 28 and scored 10 on Feb. 25. Given that the forward appears to be kicking his game into another gear in the conference tournament, the Rams will look to key in on Pope on defense.
CSU’s season ended last year following a 64-56 defeat to Fresno State in the semifinals. The season before that, the Rams lost in the semifinals as well. In 2015 the defeat was in the hands of San Diego State by a score of 56-43. CSU is hoping this will be the year they can finally break their Mountain West final four bad luck.
“We want to be in the title game,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “So whatever we have to do, that’s what we’re going to do. If that’s being focused and being locked in, that’s what we have to do.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz